KANSAS CITY – Less than a minute into Sunday’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Kansas City Chiefs were desperately seeking some inspiration.
Dante Hall’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the spark the Chiefs needed. They recovered from a miserable start to beat the Steelers 41-20 at Arrowhead Stadium.
After the Chiefs’ first four possessions resulted in two punts and two interceptions, Hall’s return ignited his team’s attack from every angle. Led by running back Priest Holmes’ three touchdowns and 122 rushing yards, the Chiefs scored on offense, defense and special teams.
Hall’s kickoff return, the longest for the Chiefs (2-0) in almost 36 years, came moments after the Steelers (1-1) gained a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Officials had called a tripping penalty against Kansas City on the play, but negated the call after conferring, and the Chiefs went on to control the rest of the game.
Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said the lift couldn’t have come from a better source.
“Just yesterday I predicted that Dante would break one,” Vermeil said. “You just get a feeling. He’s just that kind of guy. It takes all 11 guys, but he’s a special type of spark plug.”
Hall, who went to the Pro Bowl last year as a kick return specialist, also had a 45-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that led to a 4-yard Holmes’ touchdown run and a 34-20 lead.
Holmes, the NFL’s 2002 Offensive Player of the Year, topped off the Chiefs’ scoring with a 31-yard touchdown run with 5:06 left. His 122 yards on 26 carries proved Holmes’ offseason hip surgery wouldn’t hinder his performance.
The Chiefs offense settled down after quarterback Trent Green threw an early interception, and the running game dominated after the first quarter. Vermeil said the strong play of the offensive line was important in the Chiefs’ turnaround.
“I think the interception early bothered (offensive coordinator) Al (Saunders) as much as it did anybody else,” Vermeil said. “You don’t want to put (Green) in the environment where something else maybe can happen.
“But what happened is our offensive line came alive and we put the ball in the hands of Priest Holmes. The defensive line, too. I think (defensive tackle) Ryan Sims is starting to become what we thought he would when we moved up to the sixth pick to get him. He’s a good leader inside there.”
The Chiefs’ defense held the Steelers scoreless in the second half. It intercepted Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox three times and had a fumble recovery.
Sunday’s game marked the first time since a 31-17 win against Denver on Thanksgiving in 1969 that the Chiefs returned an interception and a kickoff for touchdowns.
“Everything you strive to do early in the ballgame we did just the opposite,” Vermeil said “But it is great to be able to do just the opposite and recover from it. I think that shows the depth of the competitiveness of our football team and the poise of our coaching staff.”
The Chiefs’ win marks the first time since 1996 that the team has started the season 2-0 – a start Vermeil said will set the Chiefs up for a competitive season.
“The offensive line and the defensive line sort of took the game over,” Vermeil said. “I think we’re going to be very, very tough to beat when we’re positive on turnovers. We were plus two and that gives you an 85-percent chance to win the football game.”